When is the best time to visit Hawaii? Here’s how to decide
Due to their location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Hawaiian islands serve as a great (and popular) place to visit throughout the entire year. Though you won’t find the 4 different seasons on any of the islands, you will notice that there are a few climate changes on each, especially The Big Island of Hawaii. On The Big Island of Hawaii, also referred to as simply The Big Island, there are 11 different climates situated around the island. The other main islands, Oahu, Maui and Kauai also please with a small range of climates that you can experience all in a few hours time.
Because of this, you’ll notice that summer is really the main weather season here and that the only real difference you’ll experience is how dry or humid the air is during your trip. Though the amount of rain each island receives does change a bit throughout the year, the amount of rain that you’ll personally witness really depends on which side of each island you stay on. This is because there is a dry side and a rainy side to choose from. When deciding what time of the year to visit, you’ll want to note that late Spring and Fall are the cheapest. Both of these ranges (April through May and September through the first few weeks of December) are considered the off season. The high season runs from mid December through to the end of March. For more information on when to visit Hawaii, continue reading below.
Best weather with moderate crowds: May, June, October, and November
These months offer visitors reasonable hotel rates, kind weather and opportunities to enjoy the beach without having to worry about complete strangers accidentally stepping on your towel as they walk by. May and June mark the end of Spring and the start of Summer in Hawaii while October and November represent the end of Fall.
June stands out a bit because it really doesn’t fall in the low or high season but is more of what you would call the shoulder season. This means that you won’t find the cheapest rates during this month, but at the same time rates are far from the most expensive.
Summer crowds and heat: July, August, and September
Summer is easily the hottest part of the year for the Hawaiian islands, and can make summer a love/hate relationship for locals. Some visitors will love the hotter temperatures while others will want to stay off the beach and run into the air-conditioning the entire time. Though the temperatures will rise, you’ll find the least amount of rain during these months, including in towns like Hilo, Big Island that are known for their excessive rainfall. Because rain during these months is so low, you’ll quickly notice how clear the ocean is. This is because of the lack of freshwater runoff that is very common during the winter. When planning your Hawaiian vacation, you’ll want to plan a trip during the summer if you want to spend most of your time in the ocean either snorkeling or scuba diving. If you’re an underwater photographer, either just beginning or an expert, this is the time to expand your portfolio. Hikers will find this time of year great as well. Because of the lack of wind and rain, trails are easier to transverse. The beaches, especially on Oahu, are safer for swimming as well.
Though hotel rates won’t be as expensive as winter rates, they’re not the cheapest during this time of year either. That’s because even though you won’t find surfers and cruise passengers engulfing the islands, you will find plenty of families taking their yearly vacation with their school aged children.
Off-season Hawaii: April, May, September, October, and November
In the islands, the off season is actually during two different portions of the year, Spring and Fall. During these two parts of the year, Hawaii’s weather is still great with bright skies, moderate temperatures and easy to handle wind speeds. Rainfall tends to be less during compared to winter, with the exception of November which can see some heavy flooding in the mountains on all of the islands. If you’re visiting the islands with the intent of snorkeling as much as possible, then you’ll find that September and the beginning of October are great times to visit. Land based activities such as hanging out on the beaches, shelling and sightseeing are fantastic during this time of the year.
Along with the great weather, the off season provides visitors with lower hotel rates, which can make a big difference to those with smaller budgets. Most who visit the islands prefer to rent a car rather than use taxis, which is a great idea during the off season as rental rates drop dramatically. Tours, both land and ocean based, tend to be a lot cheaper as well, making it so that you can do more during your visit while still spending basically the same amount of money.
High-season Hawaii: January, February, and March
Partly because of the moderate temperatures found on the islands and partly because of the bitter cold temperatures found in Japan, Canada and the northern regions of the United States during the winter, January, February and March have become Hawaii’s most visited months. Interestingly enough, this time of the year brings a small amount of snow on The Big Island’s two highest peaks- Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. On each of the main islands, wind speeds pick up during the high season, meaning that hikes to higher elevations will be met with strong wind speeds. You’ll also notice a good amount of rain during this portion of the year on the ‘wet’ side of each island. This can make some of hikes a bit more dangerous, though this doesn’t seem to discourage many hikers from crossing them off of their bucket list.
Due to the high amount of visitors during this time of year ( a few of which travel to the islands for a chance to see a humpback whale in the wild), you’re guaranteed to find higher hotel and resort rates among all of the islands. This means that even the less popular hotels that are located away from the beach will raise their prices. You may also find that food prices, both in the grocery stores and the restaurants, are a little higher. Activity rates, such as snorkeling and scuba diving tours, sometimes rise as well, though this isn’t as common as the rate increases at area hotels.
Surfing season in Hawaii: November, December, January, February, and March
Surfing season in Hawaii can easily be considered a year round season, especially on the North Shore of Oahu. But with that said, some months produce bigger, better and more consistent swells compared to the rest of the year. Generally speaking, you’ll find that the months of November through March offer the best surfing conditions. Because of this, you’ll not only find the local pros hitting the water, but those from around the world as well.
During this time, expect all of the hotels, resorts and vacation homes along popular surfing beaches to be all booked up. Though most of the surfers like to rent out vacation homes with their families, friends and other surfers, the hotel and resort rooms are booked in advance by reporters, camera men and other media personalities that have come to the islands to cover the many surfing competitions. If you happen to find a few available rooms, be prepared for some higher rates.
Christmas and New Years in Hawaii also tends to be busy
From December 22nd through to January 3rd, you’ll find what is commonly referred to as the peak season. This is because Christmas attracts hoards of Northerners from North America and visitors from Japan who are looking to escape the cold. You’ll also find that they tend to stay for a few weeks, extending their holiday to include New Years as well. In addition, because both Oahu and The Big Island are home to several military bases, family members of the soldiers housed on the islands tend to visit during the holidays as well.
If you’re looking into visiting for your holiday vacation, then you’ll want to book your flights as early as you possibly can. The same rings true for your accommodations. Hotels, resorts and vacation rentals book up very quickly during the holiday season, leaving last minute planners out of luck.
Annual events in Hawaii to be aware of
Chinese New Year (February 16, 2018 and February 5, 2019)
A very big event on the island of Oahu and mostly celebrated in Honolulu, the Chinese New Year is marked with red lanterns down every street and hosts a wide variety of events. Even though the Chinese New Year falls on a single date, parties and events are held for weeks.
Honolulu Festival (March 10-12)
A 3 day event that’s hosted on Waikiki, the Honolulu Festival is great for all ages and is another highly anticipated event. Along with a parade, there are various dance performances, crafts and food vendors.
Merrie Monarch Festival (April- Easter week)
This festival is located in the town of Hilo, on The Big Island, and is easily one of the biggest events in all of Hawaii. If you’re planning to visit (and stay in) Hilo during this week, you’ll want to book your accommodations in advance as hotels fill up really early as people flock into town for the festival. This particular event has been going on since 1963 and celebrates both Hawaiian culture and the hula dance.
Lei Day (May 1)
Playing host to live music, hula performances, crafts and lots of food vendor, this May Day event takes place in Waikiki, Oahu as well as on the other islands.
Lantern Floating Festival (May- Memorial Day)
Held on Ala Moana Beach in Honolulu, the Lantern Floating Festival takes place during the sunset and attracts literally thousands of people onto the beach and into the water. During the festival you’ll see both wooden and paper lanterns let loose into the ocean.
Aloha Festivals (September)
Another week long event, the Aloha Festivals are held on the island of Oahu in Honolulu. During this week you’ll find that some of the small local restaurants close up for a day or so that in order to participate in the events.
Vans Triple Crown (November though December)
Largely known as the biggest surfing competition on the planet, the Vans Triple Crown runs from November into December and plays host to 3 different surfing competitions along the North Shore of Oahu. Though the actual days of each competition vary from year to year and are dependent on the surf conditions, you’re sure to run into completely booked hotels and beaches swamped with people. If you want to visit the area during these 2 months, you’ll need to reserve your room way in advance.
Where to go in Hawaii
Though there are technically 8 different main Hawaiian islands, only 4 of them are visited on a regular basis. These are The Big Island of Hawaii, Maui, Oahu and Kauai.
The Big Island of Hawaii
Labeled as the ‘Adventure Island’, The Big Island of Hawaii is the largest out of the 4 and is home to an impressive 11 out of a possible 13 climates. Visitors to this island will find that the 2 main towns are not only located on different sides of the island, but are complete opposites in terms of climate and activity choices. Kona, found on the dry side, is the place to visit for snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, deep sea fishing and coastal hikes. Hilo, one of the wettest towns in the world, is home to a very large farmers market, waterfalls galore, a lush garden hike and vegetarian dining options. If you’re just planning to visit this island alone, then one week should be long enough to explore all the major attractions while still allowing you a day of rest.
Known for its golfing, spa, fresh seafood and fancy resorts, the island of Maui is a fantastic choice if you’re seeking a relaxing romantic island getaway with a tiny bit of adventure mixed in. Though you can easily spend your entire stay at your resort, it is recommended that you rent a car and drive down the Road to Hana. A long weekend on the island is plenty of time to see everything though lots of visitors choose to spend a week here instead.
Easily the most popular island out of the chain, Oahu is home to famed Waikiki Beach and Honolulu. The island is also well known for its surfing and the North Shore, where all of the action happens with winter surfing competitions that bring in pros from around the globe. You’ll find the most to do on this island with land based activities, lots of snorkeling and a few cultural experiences as well. When visiting Oahu, most choose to spend about a week here while others prefer a few days on this island in addition to a few days on one of the others.
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Mostly covered by tropical rainforest, Kauai is nicknamed ‘the Garden Isle’ and is also a popular choice for adventure seekers. Here you’ll find that the landscape is the most extreme out of the 4 main islands. This is because Kauai is much older than Oahu, Maui and The Big Island. If you choose to visit Kauai, you’ll want to note that there isn’t much to do here aside from hiking and walking a few beaches. The island is mostly home to farmers and a few small towns. A long weekend here gives you just enough time to go on a long hike, visit a few beaches and enjoy a cultural experience.